Critiquing the Critic – A Rejoinder to FrontPageAfrica’s Grading of the Perfomance of the Budget Director
By Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan
But once you wear the cloak of a journalist, the unsuspecting consumers of your information automatically place you on a pedestal of respect, integrity, and objectivity because they believe that you subscribe to the provision of the Journalist Creed that states, “I believe that clear thinking and clear statement, accuracy and fairness are fundamental to good journalism” and “that suppression of the news, for any consideration other than the welfare of society, is indefensible.”
Now let’s get to the crux of the matter. In your assessment of my performance, you wrote thus:
Job Performance: For starters, Ngafuan adopted Charles Taylor’s budget as his own and has been unable to explain the budget. In a 2004 article written on the Perspective, Sirleaf chastised Chairman Bryant for adopting Taylor’s budget. Sadly, her own budget man in Ngafuan did exactly that. Contradictions galore.
The Bottom Line: Ngafuan has not been able to articulate the budget; he delayed budget preparation and summation (I think you meant “submission”) by two months into the fiscal year – a really big blunder. Budget Director assumed Charles Taylor’s budget as a baseline, and then tagged on percentage increases here and there. The budget was never made public, as it is best international standard. A few newspapers received a hard copy of the budget, with no significant assumptions rendering it useless for public consumption. Inexperience has been visible here.
What is very interesting about your assessment is that in just two paragraphs, you have succeeded in injecting a host of falsehoods, among which are the following:
1) FALSEHOOD NO. 1 - ADOPTION OF CHARLES TAYLOR’S BUDGET.
The National Transitional Government of Liberia under Chairman Gyude Bryant crafted a Fiscal Budget spanning the period July 1, 2005 – June 30, 2006. As you may know, Madam Sirleaf ascended the helm of leadership on January 16, 2006 after upwards of six months of the implementation of the Transitional Government’s Budget. Recognizing the fact that the assumptions underpinning the Transitional Government’s budget were wanting in robustness and reality, my first order of business as Budget Director was to recast the budget inherited from Chairman Bryant’s administration, which was to officially lapse on June 30, 2006. Accordingly, we formulated the “Recast Budget” covering the period February 1- June 30, 2006 in the amount of US$44.1M. Recasting the Budget became imperative so as to address the 150-day Development Plan of the newly- inaugurated Government and to accommodate, inter alia, the increase in the number of legislators from seventy-six (76) in the unicameral National Transitional Legislative Assembly to ninety-four (94) in the newly-seated 52nd National Legislature.
Additionally, we introduced a novelty in the budgetary process by the inclusion in the Recast Budget of US$1M as “County Development Fund” to be used on projects specifically identified by district development councils and other stakeholders of the counties. Building on this precedent set in the Recast Budget, the current FY 2006/07 Budget allocates US$2.5M to the counties as “County Development Fund. Let it be noted that besides the County Development Fund, the counties benefit from development activities through budgetary appropriations provided to such ministries as Public Works, Health, Education, Agriculture, etc.
So Mr. Editor, where do you come from with your story about adopting Charles Taylor’s Budget? In the first place, I did not inherit Charles Taylor’s Budget but that of Gyude Bryant, which had legal effect up to June 2006. So, if I were so much of the “adopter” you tried to portray me to be, I would have adopted the Gyude Bryant Budget. But I did not. Instead, we produced the Recast Budget covering the period February – June 2006. Did you not hear about the Recast Budget? If you did not, all you should have done was to ask your correspondent on the ground, and that would have saved you the embarrassment of transgressing the aspect of the Journalist Creed that relates to “accuracy”.
On the issue of adopting Taylor’s budget as a baseline and tagging “percentage increases here and there”, again you are woefully off the factual mark. How can you say that I took Taylor’s budget as a baseline when, unlike Taylor’s budgets, budgets crafted on my watch include appropriation for county development, appropriation for the introduction of free primary education, appropriation for the resuscitation of the Central Agricultural Research Institute (CARI), an entity devastated and neglected by succeeding governments since the early 90’s, appropriation for the support of the national teams (the first time ever- ask Deputy Minister of Sports, Manbue Richards, if you doubt this), etc? When we increase the budgetary appropriations, for instance, of the Public Works Ministry from a recent historical average of under US$2M to US$US$5.6M in order to capacitate the Public Works Ministry to begin some serious road rehabilitation work, of the Ministry of Agriculture from a recent historical average of around US$500,000 to above US$3,000,000.00, and a host of other appropriations that represent radical departures from the past, is that what you call “adopting Charles Taylor’s budget”?
FALSEHOOD NO. 2: THE BUDGET WAS NEVER MADE PUBLIC
Mr. Editor, this one is a factual crime of gargantuan proportion and it really exposes the shallowness of your analysis. If you were to conduct an impartial research on my achievement since my incumbency, one thing most Liberians and foreign partners will readily tell you is that the budget is now a public document as opposed to in the past when it was treated as a sacred document. Sometime in September 2006, I hosted an elaborate press conference at which I formally released printed copies of the approved Budget to the Liberian people. I ensured that copies of the Budget were sent to media institutions, universities, civil society organizations, human rights organizations, etc. After distributing more than two hundred copies free of charge to those institutions mentioned earlier, we announced that more than six hundred copies of the budget would be put on sale at a cost of US$10.00 per copy (the cost of printing a copy was US$20.00) at the Ministry of Information and at the Bureau of the Budget. Up to today, we still have copies of the budget being sold to the general public. Additionally, since the Bureau of the Budget presently does not have a web-site, we ensured that the Budget was posted on the Ministry of Finance website at www.mofliberia.com. (Check it out now, if you doubt me).
I should add that the draft budget was also made widely available to the Liberian people and posted on the Ministry of Finance website to facilitate a robust budget debate, which for the first time in the history of this country, saw the remarkable involvement of the Liberian people. The “Atayee” shops and other intellectual gatherings around the country were buzzing with fiery debates on the draft budget, which was a source of delight to all well-meaning Liberians.
So in light of these facts, Mr. Editor, was it fair to your reading public for you to assert that the “budget was never made public”?
FALSEHOOD NO. 3: NGAFUAN HAS NOT BEEN ABLE
TO ARTICULATE THE BUDGET.
Here again, you proved that you have been living on Pluto, far removed from reality. Articulation of the budget? I will not speak to this, but if you want the truth of the matter, I refer you to members of the Legislature who grilled me on numerous occasions on budget related issues during the budget debate at the Legislature; ask T-Max Jlateh, host of the “50-50” talk-show on Sky 107; asks Joey Kennedy and Soboh George of Star Radio, hosts of the popular radio talk show, “I beg to differ” on Star Radio; ask Singbe Johnson , host of “Tough Talk”, a TV talk-show on Real TV. If you still harbor doubts about my ability to articulate the budget, ask the members of the Intellectual Discourse Committee (IDC) of the University of Liberia Student Union (ULSU) and students who attended a budget forum hosted in the Auditorium of the University of Liberia in August 2006 by the IDC; ask Dan Sayeh and other civil society leaders who hosted me at a budget debate held in the Auditorium of the Ministry of Gender during the height of the Budget debate.
FALSEHOOD NO. 4: SUBMISSION OF THE BUDGET TWO MONTHS INTO THE FISCAL YEAR.
Again, if you don’t know, the Liberian fiscal year spans July 1 and June 30. The Fiscal 2006/07 Budget was submitted to the Legislature on June 29, 2006, before the start of the fiscal year on July 1, and not two months into the fiscal year, as you allege. So, Mr. Editor, where is your regard for facts and fairness? The fact of the matter is that the Budget was passed by the Legislature on August 22, 2006, after hosting nearly two months of hearings on the Budget. Under normal circumstances, it is obvious that the budget should have been submitted to the Legislature earlier than June 29, 2006. In fact, the earlier timeline targeted by the Bureau for budget submission to the Legislature was May 20, 2006, and the deadline for the receipt of budget proposals from ministries and spending entities (a very critical input in the budget process) was April 7, 2006.
However, because of a host of reasons, not the least of which was serious capacity problems inherited by this government at various government ministries and institutions, most ministries and agencies were unable to meet the April 7, 2006 deadline. The truth is that most of the ministries including a very important branch of government actually submitted their budget proposals at the end of May 2006. Obviously, this put our timeline out of whack. Nonetheless, we were able to submit the budget before the start of the budget year, a marked improvement over the past when it was a common occurrence for budgets to be submitted to the Legislature between two-three months into the fiscal year. It is noteworthy to inform you, Mr. Editor, that because of the availability of time, activities leading to the formulation of the 2007/08 Budget started in November 2006 and the Budget will be submitted to the Legislature on May 15, 2007.
Mr. Editor, I could go on to catalogue other falsehoods in your two-paragraph assessment, but I think I should stop here for now. But I will just want to draw your attention to the fundamental rule of logic. Sound conclusions are based on sound premises. If the premise is faulty and factually flawed, as your assessment is, the conclusion, in this case your grading, is also flawed and cannot hold water. Apparently, you committed the logical fallacy of starting with a conclusion and then tried to find facts that will feed into your pre-conceived conclusion. So when you could not find the facts to feed your warped conclusion, you then decided to invent them, a remarkable feat of creativity which could qualify you as a good fiction writer.
By the way, Mr. Editor, I teach senior level Accounting at the University of Liberia, and I also give “D’s” to some of my students whose performances during the semester leave much to be desired. But I don’t just go about giving grades based on how I feel about a particular student, for to do so is to commit a grievous crime against the ethics of teaching and to prove that I am not worth my salt as an Instructor. I use objective criteria such as quizzes, midterms, final exams, class participations, group assignments, individual assignments, etc to derive a particular student’s grade. Mr. Editor, I am told that Journalism also has ethics.
Finally, Mr. Editor, please remember that “I
disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to my
death your right to say it.” Happy New Year!